Two versions of reality
Fear. Let’s talk about it because I am tired of hearing about it.
There are so many people that love to say things like, there’s no reason why someone who fits the criteria for the term psychopath wouldn’t be able to feel fear.
If someone claims they can’t feel fear, they’re just deluding themselves and are definitely not a psychopath.
Why do people say things like this? Well, for one they have no idea what a psychopath is. They haven’t bothered to do a bit of reading into it, and have decided that anyone that counters their ill informed narrative of the world is deluded. Not that they might be wrong. No no… the other person is crazy. Very reasonable and scientific.
Sarcasm aside, let’s look at fear. For those of you already familiar with the answer I provided on fear over at Quora addressing why there is so confusion around it, and don’t feel like rereading skip to where the asterisk closes the passage.
*Yes, but people seem to be very confused as to what that means.
There are two elements that affect neurotypicals when they experience fear. The physiological, which is adrenaline based, and emotional which is produced in the brain.
The first aspect is the fight or flight instinct. This is triggered by the brain stem, and all humans have it. You can trigger it in anyone alive.
The second is the emotional processing of the situation at hand. This is processed in the brain largely by the amygdala.
Psychopaths have fight or flight responses. This comes with various symptoms;
When released into the bloodstream, epinephrine acts to
• Increase heart rate and blood pressure,
• Dilate the pupils,
• Elevate the blood sugar level (by increased hydrolysis of glycogen to glucose), and
• Redistribute blood flow away from the skin and inner organs.
Psychopaths still have all of this, but lack the emotional aspects. This part doesn’t process for a psychopathic brain, thus why a psychopath can be very calm in the face of danger, and also enjoy what other people would deem a fearful situation.
Fight or flight is a chemical response, and without the fear aspect it can be a lot of fun. If you enjoy roller coasters, then you know what I mean. You know you are safe, so you can just enjoy the ups, downs, the sideways, and the upside down parts. Your body responds to all of this, and once you have ridden one, you want a bigger badder version to tackle next.
Fight or flight can happen in a variety of situations, and many of them are not fear based. However they are a part of the fear response in the neurotypical brain, so they become entwined in their understanding of it, and I agree with this notion. Adrenaline combined with the emotional processing is what the definition of fear is.
Psychopaths lack an enormous part of that equation, and only have the aspect that does not exclusively apply to the experience of fear. It is therefore not a fear response, it is a fight or flight response that has some similar elements to a fear response in neurotypicals.
Based on my conversations with neurotypicals I think it is reasonable to say that the emotional response makes up a larger proportion of the NT response than the adrenaline/epinephrine response. There are a few reasons that I have drawn this conclusion.
A fear response can happen absent a fight or flight situation. That is not to say that it won’t be triggered by the circumstances at hand, but that those circumstances are not life threatening, but rather the brain is responding to them like it is. Anxiety and panic attacks are an excellent example of this. If you can have a panic attack in a completely safe environment and it can stop you in your tracks, that is a powerful emotional production of fear.
Fear taints ordinary aspects of life without anxiety or panic being necessary. This is true when it comes to living life in a meaningful way. I see a lot of people not do things due to the fear of the unknown. This does not require fight or flight in any way, just the emotional aspects of fear to be present to prevent acton. Fearing failure is an example of this. It isn’t something that a psychopath will ever understand. So what? You sucked at something the first time? Who cares. It takes time to wire your brain for new activities, so try again. No reason to quit, or even worse, not try in the first place.
Fearing social rejection is another one. For whatever reason this is still a reaction that a lot of people experience. They are terrified of not belonging, so they will chip away at who they actually are until none of it remains, or they never bother getting to know themselves in service to the group. This is a foreign concept to me. I blend in, but none of it is me. I just present what I have to in order to get what I need or want. However, this is for my convenience, not something that I need or fear being without.
Psychopaths have fight or flight which exists outside of the notion fear, but the larger aspect of fear, that cripples neurotypicals, the emotional aspects, are lacking in their entirety. Thus, psychopaths cannot experience fear, they can experience one aspect that makes up a part fear, some of the times that fear presents itself in neurotypicals.
Having fight or flight does not equate fear.
Lacking fight or flight does not negate the presence of fear.
These two aspects can work together to create a bigger version of fear, but that is two things working in tangent with one another to create that situation. Psychopaths can have one, but not the other, and the one that we do have has nothing to do with fear, but rather survival.
People who lack neuroscientific knowledge tend to conflate the two, not realizing that they are indeed separate entities, and have separate names. The might combine in neurotypicals in times of life threatening situations, or when the brain processes something as life threatening even when it isn’t, but they do not combine in psychopaths, because in psychopaths the amygdala is understaffed, and therefore doesn’t process the emotional response. It’s just absent.*
All right, we got that out of the way, but I would like to demonstrate to you how poorly thought through experiments are that are what people are relying on to come to these erroneous conclusions.
There is a disease called Urbach-Wiethe disease. It has this annoying habit of calcifying the amygdala completely causing the person to lose fear entirely. Very interesting. There is a woman with it that will do things like not be terrified when getting mugged, having a knife to her throat, being confronted by a viper, and other such things.
Pretty fearless I would say. But is she totally fearless? No, they have decided. She is not. She has fear, and they proved it by a stupid experiment. They decreased her oxygen until she could no longer breathe effectively, and what happened? She freaked the f*ck out.
Oh, you dumb researchers. That is not fear. That is a fight or flight response. It is not emotional in nature, it is physiological, and based in the brain stem and adrenal glands, not the amygdala. Just because one aspect often fires with the other, does not make them the same thing. That is a bad conclusion to arrive at. However, because these types neurotypicals decide how everyone experiences things, just ask them they will inform you that they know best, then they can then say, she fought for her life, therefore fear.
I get it. Your emotions and physiological responses often do fire at the same time However, there have been plenty of studies that demonstrate that they are not the same thing. Attraction and lust do not equate love, for instance. You would never see a person that is attracted to another and immediately assume that wedding bells need to be strung up post haste, right?
Same thing with fear. A psychological experience is not the same as a chemical experience that is produced in a different area of the brain, or the body. A person can and will fight for their life, but that does not make them capable of fear.